AirBnB Free Temporary Housing for Hurricane Harvey Evacuees

airbnbThe devastation done by Hurricane Harvey has been heartbreaking. AirBnB has a special disaster relief program that helps connect those in need of temporary housing with generous hosts that are willing to open their homes free of charge to evacuees. It is inspiring to see all the listings available; new hosts can also sign up immediately. Airbnb for their part is waiving all services fees through 9/25, which will make the stay completely free.

All new Airbnb users can get $40 off their first stay of $75+ via referral link.

Here and here are some tips on giving effectively to Harvey victims while avoiding scams. Apparently texting is not as quick and impactful as one might think. I like the idea of giving cash directly to local non-profits which can help with the long-term recovery like the Houston Food Bank and BakerRipley.

Giving Tuesday Matching Donations 2016


Our next re-branded day is Giving Tuesday, which this year falls on November 29th, 2016. After you’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and then survived Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, the focus is back on helping others less fortunate than you. You optimize your earning and your spending, now here’s some final tips to optimize the positive impact of your charitable giving.

Check if your employer will match the charitable donations of employees. If you’re not sure, try this lookup tool from DoubleTheDonation. Most of these programs don’t require you to actually give on a specific day, but you may want to start the process today so you don’t forget in the holiday rush.

PayPal 1% Donation Match + Waived Transaction Fees. From 11/29 through 12/31/16, PayPal will add 1% to donations that you make through the PayPal Giving Fund. In addition, PayPal will not charge any transaction fees to you or the charity itself (which is not true of most other charity payment networks). The minimum donation is $10.

You must use your PayPal account. As far as I can tell, you can link up any rewards credit card of your choice and use that as the funding source. Your donation will technically be given to the PayPal Giving Fund, an IRS-registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and then disbursed to your selected nonprofit. It will still be tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Other donation portals do this re-routing as well.

The only catch is that the charity has to participate in their PayPal Giving Fund, so it may not include your charity of choice.

Having trouble deciding where to give? Here are some charity comparison sites that will help you pick where to send your help.

  • CharityNavigator – Largest and well-publicized charity rating site, provides a 4-star rating based primarily on financial criteria.
  • GiveWell – Tries to identify the best charities, not rate them all. Focused primarily on charities working internationally
  • GreatNonProfits – Allows clients, volunteers, and funders to post personal reviews based on their experiences.
  • GuideStar – Tries to be a one-stop shop for both financial data and personal reviews of charities. Must register to see a lot of things, and pay a subscription fee for premium in-depth data.
  • Philanthropedia – Ranks non-profits based on opinions of experts, and groups them to mutual fund-like portfolios.

Benjamin Franklin and Compound Interest: “Money makes money. And the money that money makes, makes money”

bencompWe’ve all heard of the power of compound interest. We’ve all heard of Benjamin Franklin. But have you heard of the story where Ben Franklin let his money compound quietly for 200 years? Here’s an excerpt from the book The Elements of Investing:

Benjamin Franklin provides us with an actual rather than a hypothetical case. When Franklin died in 1790, he left a gift of $5,000 to each of his two favorite cities, Boston and Philadelphia. He stipulated that the money was to be invested and could be paid out at two specific dates, the first 100 years and the second 200 years after the date of the gift. After 100 years, each city was allowed to withdraw $500,000 for public works projects. After 200 years, in 1991, they received the balance—which had compounded to approximately $20 million for each city. Franklin’s example teaches all of us, in a dramatic way, the power of compounding. As Franklin himself liked to describe the benefits of compounding, “Money makes money. And the money that money makes, makes money”

Very neat. A bit of digging suggests it all started out as basically a dare. From a Philadelphia Inquirer article:

Benjamin Franklin, God love him, may have been the first Philadelphian with an addytood. How’s this for an in-your-face response?

In 1785 a French mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Franklin’s Poor Richard called Fortunate Richard in which he mocked the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented by Franklin. The Frenchman wrote a piece about Fortunate Richard leaving a small sum of money in his will to be used only after it had collected interest for 500 years.

Fat chance someone would be dumb enough to try that. Ha. Ha.

Franklin, who was 79 years old at the time, wrote back to the Frenchman, thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided to leave a bequest to his native Boston and his adopted Philadelphia of 1,000 pounds to each on the condition that it be placed in a fund that would gather interest over a period of 200 years.

The trusts for Philadelphia ended up a lot smaller than the trust for Boston, which many people assume is a result of poor management, but perhaps the lower returns were an acceptable result of Philadelphia following Franklin’s original instructions for the money:

“Boston has always prided itself that it compounded the money wisely. Philadelphia has always had an inferiority complex because it didn’t,” said Bruce Yenawine, a Syracuse University Ph.D. candidate in history who has spent years researching the Franklin funds in both cities. “But Boston decided to minimize risks and maximize proceeds. Philadelphia, on the other hand, focused on the other side of Franklin’s instructions by loaning the money to individuals. I think that’s more in keeping with what Franklin wanted.”

Franklin stipulated that the 1,000 pounds (the equivalent of $4,444) be invested and used to provide low-interest loans to “married tradesmen under the age of 26” to get them started in business. Over the 200-year life of the trust, money from the Philadelphia fund was loaned to hundreds of individuals, mostly for home mortgages during the last 50 years. Boston, meanwhile, invested the bulk of the money in a trust fund that Yenawine describes as “a savings company for the rich.”

This NY Times article suggests that the initial funds came from Franklin donating his own government salary:

The 2,000 [pounds sterling] Franklin set aside came from the salary he earned as Governor of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788. ”It was one of Franklin’s favorite notions, one he tried to get written into the Constitution, that public servants in a democracy should not be paid,” Mr. Bell said.

Relating this back to personal finance, here is another Elements of Investing excerpt relating a Ben Franklin quote and compound interest:

Think in terms of opportunity cost. Think of every dollar you spend as the amount it could grow into by the time you retire. Ben Franklin famously advised, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” He was right but not entirely right. The Rule of 72 shows why. If you save money and invest it at, say, a 7 percent average annual return, $1 saved today becomes $2 in about 10 years, $4 in 20 years, and $8 in 30 years, and so on and on, inevitably growing. So the dollar a young person spends on some nonessential today would mean that $10 or more will be given up in retirement.

True Meaning of Christmas: Making a Charitable Giving Plan

giftbox2If you celebrate Christmas, you may have seen this quote about keeping with true values behind the holiday:

Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you. – Steve Maraboli

Along those lines, now is the time that many people donate to the charities of their choice (plus it’s the end of the tax year). Carl Richards of the NY Times makes a good point it that you should create a charitable giving plan and then stop feeling guilty all those other times you get asked for money.

Whether you donate time, money, or whatever, make a conscious choice as to where to give. Use the best charity comparison websites to find those that are financially healthy, committed to accountability and transparency, and creating measurable results. I wish there was an option for charities that promise not to bombard you with future letters asking for more money. Arrgh.

We created our first charitable giving plan in 2010 and have been doing it every year since. It definitely helps to sit down with each other and discuss our priorities. Some of the charities have changed, but I’m happy to say the total amount donated has grown.

I won’t lie, it also makes me feel better about the huge pile of presents our two little girls have from our generous friends and family!

Live Below The Line Challenge: $1.50/Day Lessons

Last week I successfully completed the Live Below the Line challenge along with thousands of other people around the country, eating for 5 days on just $1.50 a day. Here are my takeaways from the week:

My challenge experience. In terms of doing the challenge itself, it wasn’t all that difficult. I planned my menu carefully to make sure I got at least 2,000 calories so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by hunger. My food was bland, but relatively nutritious. I usually drink mostly tap water anyway. To satisfy the somewhat arbitrary rule of only buying entire containers, I bought most of my ingredients from bulk bins and markets by the pound. If I was allowed to buy in bulk, I would have been able to eat even better.

I did feel a low-level hunger, which grew gradually as the week went on. I think this meant I was running a small caloric deficit as I kept up my usual light exercise routine. I lost roughly a pound. By the 5th day, the repetition of eating the same thing over and over was starting to grind on me. In other words: 5 days was fine, but 50 days would have been incredibly difficult.

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Live Below The Line Challenge: $1.50/Day Menu Pictures, Cooking Tips, and Taste Test

I’m now nearly halfway through the Live Below the Line challenge, and here are some pictures and additional cooking/eating commentary about my $1.50 a day menu. Please also refer back to my menu and ingredient list and my nutritional information breakdown.


These banana crepes/pancakes are pretty big at nearly 8 inches in diameter. At 300 calories each, each one has about the same calories, fat, and (update: half the) protein as an Egg McMuffin at McDonald’s but at only 10 cents each they are less than 5% the price and have no added flavors or preservatives. If I added another egg, it’d be 15 cents each and the protein would be equal. (It’d be even better if I used whole grain flour.)

I have to prepare them from scratch daily, but I timed myself and cooking time including prep was only 15 minutes. I know that may still be too much time for some folks, but waiting in a busy drive-thru line can take 5-10 minutes on its own. I simply whisk .75 cup flour, an egg, 1 cup water, and a little salt together to make a thin batter. Then add one sliced banana. While frying the second pancake, I clean up my mixing bowl, whisk, and measuring cups. When done eating, I simply wash my single plate and rinse/wash the nonstick frying pan.

They actually taste good; I would eat them on any given weekend. I don’t really miss the milk found in the original recipe. I do wish I could alternate between apples and bananas, but apples cost too much for this challenge. For a bit more money, the variety would be nice.


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Live Below The Line Challenge: Sample $1.50/Day Menu Nutritional Information

I’m taking the Live Below the Line challenge this week, which means eating for 5 days on just $1.50 a day. I plugged all the ingredients from my $1.50 per day Sample Menu into the food diary at, and below is a screenshot of my breakdown of total daily calories as well as grams of fat, protein, and carbs.

As you can see, I won’t exactly be starving. The “daily goal” is based on my height, weight, age and my stated desire to lose one pound per week. The total calories in my BelowTheLine daily intake are around 2,000, which a bit low for a male of my size, but may be too high for someone else. I’m actually too high in carbs, a little short on protein, and even shorter on fat. To compensate, I may add a little extra canola oil to my food with the 8 cents left in my budget. Most of my food is cooked and ready to go (pictures coming). Is it weird that my only wish right now is that I could drizzle on extra virgin olive oil instead?

Live Below The Line Challenge: Sample $1.50/Day Menu

I’m taking the Live Below the Line challenge, which means eating for 5 days on just $1.50 a day. After a shopping trip and a few cooking experiments, here’s my menu for next week (4/29-5/3).


Even though the challenge rules allow it, I won’t be using anything that is significantly processed. That means no ramen noodles, protein powder, multivitamins, etc. Also, when calculating the cost of the ingredients, I will use the unit costs based on common supermarket sizes, not wholesale or warehouse store sizes. Examples are 5 lb bag of rice, a Morton can of salt, and a 28 oz. bottle of oil. I cross-checked all my listed prices with the USDA database to make sure they were reasonable.

Update: I misread the rules and have made some changes in order to avoid buying things like a 10 lb bags of beans, even though in reality that would be the most economical. Instead, I had to find the places that had the cheapest bulk bins. Some prices went up, but some prices actually went down. I had to leave out the onion from dinner, but otherwise the menu stayed the same and under budget.

The Menu

I wanted to make things simple, so I just planned to have the same meal for all five days. Breakfast is pretty quick and will be made each day. Lunch and dinner will be prepared on Sunday night and be reheated for the rest of the week.


  • Banana “crepe” pancakes
  • Ingredients per day are: 0.75 cup flour, 1 egg, 1 banana, 1 tbsp oil, and a pinch of salt. Basically mix everything together with ~0.75 cup water to make thin batter, and fry. This makes two large pancakes (see picture) and my first attempt was pretty tasty. The riper the bananas, the sweeter. Total cost of 5 meals: $1.88


  • Lentil soup with 2 large chapatis (flat bread).
  • Soup ingredients for all 5 days are 2 cups dry lentils, 4 carrots, 2 onions, 4 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp oil, and 3 tsp salt. 10 large chipatas (2 per day) are 3 cups flour, boiling water, and 1/4 cup oil. I haven’t made the soup yet, but I fried up some chapatis and they were a nice bread/tortilla replacement. Total cost of 5 meals: $2.03 + $0.44 = $2.43


  • Plate of rice, beans, and tomatos.
  • Ingredients for all 5 days are 2 cups uncooked rice, 2 cups dry pinto beans, 1 can crushed tomatoes, 2 tbsp oil, and salt. Pile o’ cooked rice, pile ‘o cooked beans, pile o’ canned tomatoes and diced fresh onions. I actually used to eat this anyway when in “bachelor mode”, except with canned beans and bottled salsa. Total cost of 5 meals: $3.11

Total cost for the week: $7.42

Shopping List

Here are all the ingredients that I will be using, broken down into the price of the overall package and the unit cost.

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Live Below The Line Challenge $1.50/day – What to Eat?

I recently learned about Live Below The Line, an annual anti-poverty campaign which challenges people to feed themselves on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line for five days. According to the World Bank, that works out to spending less than US$7.50 total ($1.50 per day). I’ve accepted the challenge, which will run from April 29th to May 3rd, 2013 (Mon-Fri).

I don’t want to make this about politics, guilt, or anything negative. Although this is in part a fundraising campaign, I’m not asking you to donate money. (I will fulfill the goal with my own money. If you really want, you can give here to the Global Poverty Project.) It will be a learning experience for me; I hope to gain some perspective and appreciation for my many blessings. I liked how this tweet put it:

So… 7 bucks and 50 cents. What should I buy?

I’ve read about many families of four that claim to live on $200 of groceries a month, which is pretty much $1.50 a day per person. Getting more people to pool resources definitely helps. But since it’s just me on this challenge, things are going to be a bit tougher. I’ve gone vegetarian for short periods before, so it looks like that will be my best bet. Here are some brainstorming ideas:

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Kiva Microfinance Loan Update & Default Rates

I have been lending some money to people through Kiva microfinance to help alleviate poverty since 2007. While reinvesting some funds that were paid back, I noticed that I just reached $1,000 in money lent out through 40 loans of $25 each. Kiva loans do not pay any interest. Out of the $1,000 that I have lent out, I have received about $805 back, about $185 is outstanding, and I have lost about $10. Now, you should know that the people borrowing this money are paying interest rates much higher than zero but much of that interest goes back to paying operational costs and covering defaults. There has been some debate as to whether this is becoming a form of predatory lending, but I believe there is a real need for such lending in these countries. You also have to trust Kiva in their selection of MFI field partners. I also do microfinance lending at Microplace.

Right now you can get a free $25 trial to try out Kiva using my invite link (I get nothing). You basically get to make a free $25 to a person of your choosing from a developing country, but when it is paid back you the money goes back to the sponsor. I know, rather cheesy. I think you should just have to keep lending it out by making it ineligible for withdrawal. That’s what I like about this type of lending – the money you commit can help many people over time.

$5,000 Cash & Two iPads Holiday Giveaway from MyMoneyBlog (Winner Announcement)

Winner Announcement! The contest is now over. Congratulations to Devin A. and Julia D., the lucky winners of $2,500 and an iPad 2. You should have received an e-mail notification to your registered e-mail address. Thanks to all who entered, I hope to do it again next year.

‘Tis the season of giving so I’ve decided to award two lucky MyMoneyBlog readers with $2,500 in cold hard cash!  And as an added bonus, each winner will receive a brand new iPad 2 (64gb).  Yes, really! I don’t think you’ll find a richer giveaway on the web so please tell your friends, family and coworkers to get an entry in!   Winners will be selected at random on the morning of Wednesday, December 21st and to enter the giveaway, you need to follow two simple steps:

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Veteran’s Day: Top Requested Gifts For Soldiers In Afghanistan

Why not observe Veteran’s Day with a useful gift for a current soldier? My wife’s co-worker is currently serving in Afghanistan, and he sent over a list of requested items from his unit. I’ve also read through several recommended lists online – long but good ones here, here, and here. There are some inconsistenties – one says to send homemade cookies, another says that nothing homemade is allowed. Some places accept books and music CDs, others don’t. However, between them there are definitely many things in common.

Mainly, don’t treat giving to the troops as a charity like Goodwill or Salvation Army. They are already supplied with all the essentials, and may have access to a commissary (though many don’t!). The point is to provide them with comfort and improve morale. They are far from home in a tough environment, so give them something that reminds them of their “normal” lives.

Don’t give them hotel toiletries, find out their favorite brand of toothpaste or shampoo and send them that. This applies to everything else as well. Find out what they want first if you can – requests can be very specific – and then send it to them. If you don’t someone particular in mind, you can get an individual’s name and address from, complete with their personal requests. In addition, here is a highly condensed list of popularly requested items.

Individual-wrapped items are preferred as they are easier to share and to carry around.

  • Energy & Protein Bars – Clif Bars, Powerbars, Muscle Milk.
  • Drink powders – Starbucks VIA instant coffee, Arizona Green Tea, Crystal Light Energy, Propel, popular GNC products. Also sugar, Equal/Extra/Splenda, and powdered creamer packets.


  • Batteries (colder months only; AA, AAA, C & 9V)
  • DVDs of current television shows and new release movies
  • Recent magazines and/or newspapers
  • Cards, board games, travel games

Improve Morale

  • Phone cards, unlocked GSM phones, or other way to call home
  • Letters and picture to let them know that you support them.


  • Thick heel, high or low ankle socks. Black, olive green, or white. Cotton or wool. Seems you can’t have enough good socks. These are also used to cool drinks. Less worry about getting the right size.
  • Small plush toys or school supplies for Afghan children

Do not send alcohol or adult materials. Do not mix toiletries and food, unless they enjoy food that tastes like deodorant. Don’t send anything that will melt, leak, or explode like aerosol cans. Rather just order a pre-made gift basket online? Check out